On Sunday morning, it seems appropriate that the text should come from perhaps the preeminent preacher in all of Christian history. This is from John Chrysostom’s 15th Homily, a sermon regarding the martyrdom of Stephen:
None, I repeat, will be able to harm us, unless we harm ourselves; nor will any make me poor, unless I make myself such. For come, let us look at it in this way. Suppose that I have a beggarly soul, and let all lavish all their substance upon me, what of that? So long as the soul is not changed, it is all in vain. Suppose I have a noble soul, and let all men take from me my substance: what of that? So long as you do not make the soul beggarly, no harm is done…And why say I these things? None will ever be able to plot against us, nor lay us under any evil charge, if we choose (that they shall not). For how now, I ask you? Let him drag me into a court of justice, let him lay vexatious informations, let him, if you will, have the very soul out of me: and what of that? for a little while, undeservedly to suffer these things, what does it signify? “Well, but this,” say you, “is of itself an evil.” Well, but of itself this is a good, to suffer undeservedly.
what is a man injured, when from death itself he has got great gain, not merely no hurt? If indeed the man had been immortal, and this made him mortal, no doubt it would be a hurt: but if he be mortal, and in the course of nature must expect death a little later, and his enemy has but expedited his death, and glory with it, what is the harm? Let us but have our soul in good order, and there will be no harm from without. But thou art not in a condition of glory? And what of that? That which is true of wealth, the same holds for glory: if I be magnanimous I shall need none; if vainglorious, the more I get, the more I shall want. In this way shall I most become illustrious, and obtain greater glory; namely, if I despise glory. Knowing these things, let us be thankful to Him Who hath freely given us such a life, and let us ensue it unto His glory; for to Him belongs the glory, forever. Amen.
This text responds to the question of whether or not Stephen losses anything by virtue of being martyred. The preacher answers that persecutors took nothing from Stephen when was of any enduring worth. He was, after all, mortal to begin with. His life was not something he possessed; it was something he was slated to give up eventually anyway. Moreover, in dying Stephen found much more than he lost, embraced as he was by the eternal glory of God. Instead of depriving him of his life, Stephen’s murderers had ironically initiated him into Life. No matter how hard anyone may try to deprive Christians of anything, John Chrysostom reminds his listeners, so long as they have their priorities rightly ordered then their true treasure is invincible. It is for this that the preacher urges his audience to be grateful, that God should so love them as to give them a hope of life which can never be taken from them. They have an unassailable promise for future glory that of which trial, persecution, and even death cannot deprive them.
How often are we grateful when we are given that for which we ask? John reminds his readers that the greatest gift of God was that for which we did not ask, which we did not deserve, but which God took the initiative to grant us nonetheless.